It was 22 years ago that I gave it to him for Father’s Day. I wrote it and framed it of my own accord.
“My grandpa, laughing and making me laugh,” went one of the lines of the poem. It was a 10-line salute to our relationship, highlighting our biggest love: laughter. It settled on his bedside stand where it nestled him to sleep at night for the next 16 years.
But more true to our relationship was the note that I wrote him when I was just learning to write. I have the pair of cards that I sent to my grandparents then. On my grandmother’s is a beaming rendition of soft, sweet love. “Grama you’r the best Grama a girl could ever have I love you.” On my grandfather’s a rogue and teasing sonnet from a five-year-old girl: “GrandPa, you are very fat you have a rickled nose, with love, Aimée Cartier P.S. you are nuts!!!”
Even from an early age, I leaned into his love of laughter and teasing, and gave it right back. It was the tone that carried the weight of our affection for one another. No matter what was said, it had an undercurrent of profound love and warmth.
“I was out with a friend last night,” I would begin, telling him a story.
“What friend?” my grandfather would interrupt, in fake shock. “When did you get one of those?” Or “Come on, Aimée, tell the truth.”
My grandfather and I always had a special relationship. When I was a child, he would actually let me style his hair. Collecting the combs and other hair accoutrements from my grandmother’s vanity, I would sit him down on the living room floor and climb onto the couch behind him. Making a ponytail on the top of his head with his black wavy hair, I would pass him the mirror to let him admire himself. Then, I would make my best attempt to convince him that he could, with this hairstyle, start the next greatest fashion trend. He would reward me with his signature chortle and profess his grave doubt of it.
Simply put, my grandfather loved to laugh. He was notorious for his jokes — but not because they were actually funny. It was due, instead, to the way that he would laugh at them.
Recently I discovered the joke section in Reader’s Digest. “Gramps would have loved these,” I thought to myself, reading them one day on the couch. Suddenly I had a vision of the wooden magazine stand that always sat next to the toilet in my grandparents’ bathroom — chalk full of Reader’s Digest. “Oh! So this is where he got them!” I exclaimed out loud, realizing for the first time the source for his years of jokes.
I have a vivid memory of sitting on my grandparents’ patio one sunny summer day. Gramps was wearing a short-sleeved, knit collar shirt with big blue and white stripes that laid across his belly. He told one of his banal jokes — the kind that barely warrants a small guffaw (see Reader’s Digest). And then, as usual, he broke into his low and deep chuckle. His round belly was moving up and down, shrugging in unison with his shoulders. It was the movement that always accompanied his laughter. He continued on, his steady chortle filling the space at the patio table.
“It wasn’t even that funny, Gramps!” I said with a smile.
“Oh, Roy,” piped my grandmother, “laughing at your own jokes again.”
Soon, I started to laugh, responding in kind to the deep and steady chuckle emanating from my grandfather and his upper body. Before he was finished, I had peed my pants, my mother was crying from laughter and even my grandmother was gulping for air — none of us at the joke, but at my grandfather’s own sniggering.
To him, pretty much everything in life was funny. For him, to think of a granddaughter who, at the age of 5, writes him a note about how big his belly is was probably about the most uproarious thing imaginable. He likely thought me a crazy little imp of a girl who played right into his love of the incongruous.
It’s been seven years now since my grandfather died. The poem that accompanied him to bed each night went with him into the ground. But to say that my grandfather’s laughter is gone would be a mistake.
I can still hear his chuckle, low and deep, laughing with me when I (accidentally, of course) do totally absurd things. To this day, I still sometimes double over in laughter thinking of his anecdotes. His infamous shoulder shrug lives in the depths of my own body. And he still reigns in my dreams. His message is often the same — with a sparkle in his eye and a grin on his lips, he reminds me, “Aimée, this is all just fun and games.”
— Aimée Cartier is a freelance writer who lives on Vashon.